York scientist will work with China to predict and prevent disease

A York University professor who uses mathematical models and computer simulations to predict the spread of communicable diseases such as AIDS, SARS and pandemic influenza will lead a major project with a colleague in China to improve public health policy in the rapidly changing country.

Professor Jianhong Wu (right), Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Industrial & Applied Mathematics, and Yiming Shao, a prominent scientist of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control & Prevention in China, will collaborate on an interdisciplinary project that will use extensive Chinese data on AIDS and HIV to develop mathematical models evaluating various disease control and prevention programs.

The Canadian government’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and CRC Program announced the international partnership between Wu and Shao late yesterday, awarding Shao an IDRC Research Chair in Modelling and Management of Communicable Diseases. The IDRC program pairs CRCs with international peers, and gives them up to $1 million over five years to address a key development challenge. The modelling and controlling infectious diseases project, led by Shao and Wu, was one of eight research partnerships funded.

A professor in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, Wu is director of the MITACS Centre for Disease Modelling and the Laboratory for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, both at York.

The focus of the research will be on AIDS and HIV in at-risk populations in several regions of China, and it will result in consultation with and recommendations to health services agencies about prevention policies. One of the major goals of the collaborative project will be to strengthen Chinese universities’ research capability in developing mathematical models for predicting infectious disease transmission – models which would be used in the event of a disease epidemic or pandemic to evaluate strategies in real time.

Wu brings to the collaboration significant experience of a Canadian team funded by a national Centre of Excellence, MITACS. This team, established in the 2003 SARS crisis, has grown to include more than 20 scientists from across Canada, with expertise in fields ranging from medical epidemiology and public health policy to statistical analysis and mathematical modelling. Its expertise in modelling and predicting emerging infectious diseases has been recognized worldwide, and it has gone on to lead efforts for a number of other infectious diseases including avian influenza, West Nile virus, pandemic influenza, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The central goal of the IDRC-CRC initiative is to build healthier, more equitable and more prosperous societies in developing countries by strengthening research capabilities in the universities of these countries. Shao and Wu will be working with teams of researchers at several universities and institutions in China and Canada.